WH Press Office: thanks, but no thanks

Michael Wolff’s gonna think I’m stalking him. After attending and posting on his tete à tete last week with Bloomberg’s Andy Lack, I stumbled across his piece in the July issue of Vanity Fair in which he extols the virtues of the White House press operation (another favorite subject of this blog).

In the piece, “The Power and the Story,” Wolff leads with:

“The Obamas may have the smartest, most finely calibrated press operation in White House history, parceling out scoops (The New York Times), partisan talking points (the Huffington Post), and First Family tidbits (the celebrity mags) to a desperate media. Just don’t ask them to admit it.”

Apparently, Mr. Wolff set out to dissect the Press Office’s PR process, and was promptly rebuffed.

“Even though I’ve been invited to the White House for a talk with Gibbs, there’s an abrupt cancellation when, after some chitchat with Burton, it becomes clear that my interest is in process rather than, per se, message.”

Now this really impresses me. What possible gain can be realized by talking about the machinations of PR versus the messages those machinations are designed to propagate? I once chastised Wal-Mart’s agency for inviting a New Yorker reporter to peak under the retailer’s PR hood. That piece produced PR pain and no client gain.

To his credit, Bill Burton, the 31-year-old Beltway media relations careerist (pictured at right) who heads the White House press office, disarmingly explained:

“‘The process aspect of media, the insider stuff, is not—it’s not our thing,’ says Burton, whose entire career in the press offices of Dick Gephardt, Tom Harkin, John Kerry, and Obama during his Senate term has been about nothing but media process. ‘We won’t miss it if you don’t do the story.’ Big cheesy smile.”

And smartly so.